Les Marshak On
The Secrets Of Voice-over Success
By Scott Benjamin
Les Marshak, who nearly 30 years ago gave up the recognition connected with being a Top
40 radio air personality for the anonymity of being a voice-over artist, recently
rediscovered what its like to be a celebrity.
A lot of people in the voice-over business prefer being anonymous, said
Les, who was an ABC staff announcer in the summer and fall 1969 before briefly succeeding
Roby Yonge as the air personality on the Musicradio77 WABC overnight show. For many years
he has been one of the top voice-over artists in the profession.
About the only time that Ive given my name is at the end of the show when Im
doing a live awards presentation, he said.
However, over the recent months, Les and some of the other 18 contributors to Secrets
of Voice-Over Success, coordinated by voice-over announcer and coach Joan Baker
(Sentient Publications, $18.95, 188 pages, 2005) have been heralded by aspiring voice-over
artists at seminars and book-signings.
We end up feeling like celebrities because when they hear our voices they go
crazy, said Les, who is the voice of Macys and NBC Sports and had handled the
Academy Awards and the Tony Awards. You
just never think that anyone listening to your voice in a commercial would relate to you.
It is very much like how I was when I was younger, he added in a Sept. 8,
2006 phone interview with Musicradio77.com. I knew the names and voices of the staff
announcers at ABC and NBC.
A seminar this spring at The Museum Of Moving Image in New York City attracted a crowd
of 200 and coverage from Fox News, The New York Daily News, The New York Post and other
media outlets, according to a story at Sentientpublications.com.
Joan Baker embarked on the project to assist aspiring voice-over artists and raise
money for the Alzheimers Association.
Her late father, James Palmer Baker, was afflicted with Alzheimers disease.
I was never so moved by appreciation for my voice the human voice
as when Alzheimers disease claimed the voice of my father before finally claiming
his life, she wrote in the Dedication to Secrets of Voice-Over Success.
We thought about our ability to communicate and what would happen if we couldnt
communicate, Les said regarding some of guidelines that Joan provided to him and the
other voice-over artists that contributed essays.
The roster includes Don LaFontaine who has done over 4,000 movie trailers and,
according to the book, is arguably the most successful voice-over artist of all
He currently appears on screen in a Geico insurance television commercial.
The contributors also include E.G Daily, Nancy Giles, Bill Ratner, Rodd Houston and Joe
Cipriano, all of whom have handled major assignments for many years.
Les lamented that another of the contributors, Fred Collins who was the first
voice heard on color television and over the years served as a spokesman for more than 300
of the Fortune 500 companies died in August.
He was really the dean of the profession, he said.
Joan and her husband, Rudy Gaskins, established Push Creative Advertising in New York
City in 2000. Joan is a coach to several up and coming voice-over artists. She has worked
in tandem with former President Bill Clinton on a voice-over for his presidential library,
and for such clients as HBO, ABC News and ESPN Classic.
Les said the book is a how-to manual manual for announcers entering the
profession which is largely populated by people who initially tried broadcasting or
In the essays and at the seminars we let people know some of the pitfalls of
being in the business, he said.
Les said that 95 percent of the members of the American Federation of Television and
Radio Announcers and of the Screen Actors Guild are out of work or are making very
You have to have fortitude and a passion, he said regarding the need to
overcome the many obstacles in being chosen at auditions.
People can feel very insecure, Les added. We tell the aspiring
voice-over people that when you dont get the job, it isnt a rejection, but a
way to present yourself for the next job. You shouldnt take it personally.
On another topic, he said that audio digitization has allowed different types of
announcers to succeed in the profession.
For example, its easier for a novice in the sense that an engineer can
eliminate the rough edges today more easily, Les said.
He said there also are more women in the profession now than when he became a full-time
voice-over artist in 1977 following a 7-year stint as an air personality at WPIX-FM in New
Les said that technology has also made it easier to do work outside of the two top
markets New York City and Los Angeles.
However, he said that those cities continue to have, by far, the largest share of the
Les said that starting in the late 1970s more of the movie trailers and promos started
to be produced in Los Angeles. However, he said that today, 80 to 90 percent of the
advertising and commercial work is done in New York City.
He said the market for voice-over artists has undergone some changes over the last 10
Advertisers have found that the new, younger generation isnt always
receptive to an authoritative voice in a commercial trying to sell them something,
Les said Some styles that werent used much before, such as
people with quirky voices, are now more popular with the
He stated in the book that although an agent can be an invaluable to a voice-over
artist, it is important to initiate a rapport with producers, writers and engineers.
Those people go from one project to another or one company to another, Les
said in the phone interview. If you establish a rapport, they will remember you when
future work comes along. A birthday card or an occasional lunch will be appreciated.
He said one benefit of the seminars to promote the book is that the question and answer
sessions have made him analyze what I do.
I usually dont think about
technique such a breathing or how to have that internal clock to knock off eight
frames in a commercial, Les said. Its
made me think much more about the mechanisms and the timing.
The whole experience of contributing to the book and then appearing at the seminars and the book signings has been very gratifying, he added.
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